Awkward. It's not just the name of an MTV show: it's the only answer to the most boring Mad Libs puzzle ever.
"Jenna Hamilton, the main character in MTV's ____________, often feels ____________.
"Of course Jenna, being in high school, is bound to feel ____________. Every teen feels ____________, thanks to all those ____________ hormones. But Jenna's ____________ness is heightened by the fact that she is part of a show called ____________, wherein writers try to put ____________ Jenna and her ____________ friends, ____________ enemies and ____________ parents in the most ____________ situations imaginable, all to live up to the show's extraordinarily ____________ name. Indeed, this whole ____________ series feels ____________ from beginning to end.
"As does, unfortunately, this ____________ review."
Jenna is the show's undisputed queen of pubescent discomfort. From the very beginning, she's had a lot to feel, um, cumbersome about—from her first-episode accident that was misconstrued as a suicide attempt to the fact that she lost her virginity to hunky Matty at summer camp. After dating the dude for most of the first season, Jenna's moved on from Matty now—to his good friend Jake—but there's still no slackening of things to feel discomfited by. And if Jenna is miraculously feeling OK about herself and her environs for a moment, audiences can be sure that her misfit friends—chatterbox Tamara and wry Ming—will surely reel in enough, well, gaucheness to keep the title more than fitting.
I can tell you that there's more to MTV's Awkward., of course, while noting the bumbling little period at the end of the title. There's relational drama. Spiritual floundering. Angst. Oh, and sex—lots and lots of sex. Characters talk about if they've had it or whether they're going to have it or whether they should have it—sometimes in graphic terms. And certainly no regular character here would consider abstinence to be any sort of a spiritual commitment: Awkward. operates in a world free of purity rings. Drinking and drugs sometimes put in embarrassing appearances too.
This is MTV trying its level best to present a female version of its (now defunct) explicit, sexualized, angsty teen boy comedy The Hard Times of RJ Berger. In both series, shallow, sexualized, off-color storylines and characters are merely considered commonplace. Lisa Palmer of buddytv.com, as if to prove the point, talked with actress Ashley Rickards (Jenna), about how openly the series includes sex. Rickards blithely responded by saying that the show "wasn't breaking any new ground" and that the cast is "portraying things that happen all across America to teens everywhere."
More accurate, or at the very least more applicable here, is a comment made by MTV general manager Stephen Friedman about RJ Berger. He felt good about the fact that it "speaks to where we need to go as a network." Awkward. puts punctuation on his statement, both figuratively and literally.
The show can occasionally be funny, even poignant at times. Despite its one-note theme, it has its moments. The characters, stereotypical as they are, are sharply drawn and competently realized. But if Jenna walked up to me and said, "So, honestly, Do you think Awkward. is a good show? You know, for teens to watch?" I'd have to, not wanting to hurt her feelings too much, hem and haw and buy for time, pondering exactly how I'd tell her the honest, painful truth.
And that would be an, er, maladroit moment for both of us.
"My Love Is a Black Heart"
Jake decides to treat Jenna to the date of her dreams—beginning with dinner at a nice little restaurant. Alas, Matty and his squeeze, a freshman, are sitting at the table right next to them, and Jenna, instead of concentrating on what a nice guy Jake's trying to be, obsesses over Matty and his new girlfriend. Meanwhile, Tamera and Ming attend a "Black Hearts" party for those spurned by love. Here's what happens there: Tamera catches her ex having a fairly intimate encounter with the much-hated Sadie in the bathroom and promptly urinates on the floor. Ming makes out with another partygoer.
Jokes are made about breasts. Crude comments spotlight sex, menstruation, lesbian porn and suicide. Tamera tries to flirt with a guy wearing eyeliner, but when he walks away, she shouts after him, "Whatever, Twilight! Choose a gender!" Tamera and Ming drink alcohol, and Tamera makes reference to Ming's "beer blush." We see adults drinking wine. Characters say "b‑‑ch," "a‑‑" and "d‑‑n." Partially bleeped profanities include an f-word and "pr‑‑k."
Breaking any number of laws in the process, not to mention sawing asunder common decency, Sadie and Lissa secretly take a nude, waist-up shot of Jenna as she undresses in the girls' locker room. They send the photo to pretty much everyone in the school. A teacher later lusts over the image on his phone, as do many boys suddenly interested in dating Jenna, whose breasts are graphically described several times. Determined not to be merely a victim, Jenna illogically responds by lifting her shirt in the hallway and baring her breasts on her own terms.
Later, in one of the show's very, very few moments of clarity, Jenna's father wisely tells her that she'll never be able to control what happens, but she can control how she feels.
But do Sadie and Lissa get in trouble for their actions? Suspended? Expelled? Arrested? Not even close.
Masturbation, threesomes, homosexual sex, gay porn, drunkenness, eating disorders, venereal disease and a guy "adjusting himself" are joked about. Girls wear cleavage-revealing camisoles and very short skirts. Jenna and Matty kiss passionately.
Sadie tells Jenna that her mom should have "finished the abortion she botched." Language includes misuses of God's name, a few partially bleeped f- and s-words, "b‑‑ch," "a‑‑," "h‑‑‑," "d‑‑n," and "shiznit."
Jenna and Matty have sex in a utility closet at a summer camp party where teens are getting drunk. We see him shirtless and her in a bra. Their movements are graphic, as is their conversation, which includes a reference to anal sex and the physical pain she suffers while losing her virginity. Jenna later blogs that the day was the worst of her life, writing, "Sometimes being a teenager makes you want to die."
That sets up the attempted suicide "joke," which includes "nods" to overdosing and electrocution. Mom's response? "Why can't she be like every other teenager and just starve herself?" As rumors of Jenna's "attempt" escalate, a boy says it was "autoerotic asphyxiation"—which he admires. Sadie bashes Jenna, saying she should be in a mental ward or Thailand, since "only a pedophile" would have sex with her. Jenna jokes that she should take off her underwear and flash people.
Breasts are crudely described. Date rape, lesbian sex, oral sex, vibrators and condoms get shout-outs. Drug use is referenced several times, and a kegger is mentioned as being a normal event. Karma comes up. God's name is abused. A handful of f- and s-word are partially bleeped. Other language includes "a‑‑," "h‑‑‑" "douche bag," and crude names for male and female genitalia.